Essay on Hang Kang
Much of the work is autobiographical, in that Kang Hang places himself in his narrative of captivity. How does Kang Hang see his position in relation to Chosŏn society and the wider world?
Hang Kang narrative is autobiographical in its essence. At the same time, he conveys the story of his captivity from the perspective of a Korean, who was forced to move to Japan. The forced migration to Japan as a captive of Japanese has changed the worldview of the author. To put it more precisely, he has broadened his eyesight during his captivity in Japan but he has preserved his Korean identity and neo-Confucian views and beliefs. In such a way, Kang Hang viewed himself and his position in relation to Choson society and the wider world as a representative of Korean culture, who stood on neo-Confucian ground and broad philosophic views due to the better understanding of Japanese culture and society. In such a way, the narrative of Hang Kang is the quintessence of Choson culture, neo-Confucian ideas and broad philosophical view on Japan, Korea and the role of the author as the Korean spy and neo-Confucian philosopher spreading the teaching in Japan.
Hang Kang was devoted to his community and remained Korean, even when he was captured by Japanese. From the beginning of the book and until its end Hang Kang emphasized his belongingness to Choson culture. He always remained Korean and attempted to preserve the cultural identity, which was his native culture. In such a way, it is quite natural that he develops the narrative from the standpoint of a Korean, who was captured and forced to move to Japan as a captive. For example, at the beginning of the book he describes horrors of the invasion of Choson region by Japan. The author focuses on details and horrors of the war, which he describes as the invasion. Remarkably, he fails to understand reasons for the assault and cannot explain why Japanese attacked Korea. The lack of understanding of motives and reasons of Japanese was typical for Koreans, because they did not know motives of Japanese. This was the result of the lack of knowledge of Japanese culture. Japan remained terra incognita for Koreans and they could not understand Japanese people and motives of their actions.
Even when he was in Japan, he believed he was serving to his king. The work on his narrative involved observations and study of the lifestyle and culture of Japanese, specificities of their political system, military and social life. In such a way, Hang Kang remained devoted to his fatherland and he viewed himself as a sort of spy in Japan serving to interests and needs of his people in Korea (Turnbull 71). He always remained the outsider in Japan and he did not want to become Japanese or assimilate into Japanese culture. Japanese culture remained the culture of a different culture and Hang Kang has never associated himself with Japanese or Japanese culture. Japanese culture remained a foreign culture for Hang Kang as a captive of Japanese but he always remained Korean and could not accept Japanese culture as his own. In fact, he attempted to study Japan and understand Japanese culture, society, the political system and military to communicate all the information, which he collected to his king. Therefore, he viewed himself as the agent of Choson monarch in Japan, who is captured but still he did his best to study Japan and understand this country and its people. Therefore, the main driver, which determined the decision of Hang Kang to create his book, was the attempt of the author to create the book that would uncover the truth about Japan to Korean people and the monarch.
In such a context, he viewed himself as a servant of his king and presented himself in the book as a devoted servant, who did his best to help the king of Korea to understand better Japanese culture and society. In such a way, he expected to inform the king about the essence of his major enemy. Therefore, he presents himself primarily as the servant of his king. He remains a servant of his king, even when he is a captive. In such a way, he does not recognize the authority of Japanese since he does not view Japanese Emperor as his new ruler, although formally he was a captive of Japanese than Japanese decided his future and his life was in their hands. In such a way, he turns out to be a true patriot of his country and devoted servant of his monarch. He resisted to any influences from the part of Japanese. On the contrary he stood firmly on his ground and neglected all efforts of Japanese to assimilate him and made him a part of their community.
In this respect, he was fully aware of the risk of becoming absolutely inferior to Japanese because, as a captive, he would take the lowest level in the social hierarchy of Japanese society. However, he rejected Japanese culture and stuck to his own culture, norms and traditions, which made him different from other captives and from Japanese. As a result, he represents himself as a person, who has preserved spiritual and cultural independence, even when he was a captive. In such a way, he became the independent captive such oxymoron is the best characteristic of Hang Kang in Japan and his book reveals that he was really free in his mind and spirit but physically he remained a captive. Therefore, he always remained Korean in Japanese society. He was an outsider, a stranger in Japanese society, which he viewed and studied from the perspective of a captured Korean.
However, he was not the average Korean captive of Japanese. Instead, he was able to view Japanese from neo-Confucian rather than narrowly Korean perspective. Neo-Confucian views helped Kang Hang to develop a broader view on Japan and his position in Japan. He promoted his neo-Confucian ideas among Japanese. In this regard, he did not even need to develop a close communication with them or persuade them through disputes and extensive arguments. Instead, he just stood on his ground and his difference became obvious for Japanese and they grew interested in his views and beliefs that would help them to develop a new, neo-Confucian perspective on their life. Neo-Confucian ideas were absolutely new for Japanese society and they attracted many Japanese, who knew Hang Kang in person. He became a source of new ideas, a new worldview which was unusual for Japanese. Hence, Hang Kang became not a mere captive but, instead, he became a person, who expanded his values, beliefs and worldview rather than assimilated into Japanese society and culture. Japanese apparently did not expect such impact of the captive on their views and beliefs.
Even though Kang Hang remained a servant to his king and people, he has managed to analyze Japanese culture and society critically. The experience of the deeper contact with Japanese culture and society helped Hang Kang to develop a broader world on himself, his cultural background, Japanese and wider world. in this regard, it is worth mentioning the fact that the development of his views was still vulnerable to the impact of Japanese culture. In fact, Hang Kang has managed to overcome the direct impact of Japanese culture but the study of Japanese culture and his new social environment expanded his worldview consistently. In the course of the book the evolution of the narrator becomes obvious (Kim 101). At the beginning of the book he was Korean, a servant fully devoted to his king and his people. However, in the course of the book, he becomes a neo-Confucian, who has learned to appreciate other cultures and develops a sort of tolerance which help him to view other cultures as different. On the other hand, he has never managed to get rid of his cultural supremacy compared to Japanese, whom he believed to be unable to civilization because their primary concerns were invasion and grandiosity of their empire, whereas he, being a neo-Confucian, was more concerned with himself, his family, his community, country and his king. He believed Japanese to be unable to civilization. This helped Hang Kang to remain indifferent to Japanese culture and resistant to its impact. Instead, he remained devoted to his neo-Confucian principles.
In such a way, Hang Kang preserved his devotion to Choson society but he has developed a broader view on his position in society and his environment. In fact, he has managed to overcome biases associated with the traditional view of Koreans on Japanese. Hang Kang has managed to view Japan from within, although he remained an outsider but he believed that the study of Japanese culture and society was essential for his country. He believed his society was still more advanced and civilized compared to Japanese one but his devotion to his society was accompanied by the impact of neo-Confucian ideas, which helped him to view Japanese culture as a new phenomenon that he studied in details trying to understand and describe in his book. The detailed description of his vision of Japanese society was essential for Choson society, which was unaware of its enemy, because Japan focused on the invasion of Korea and Koreans had to know the enemy to be able to confront him effectively. In this regard, Hang Kang performed a dubious role. At any rate, he represents himself as an outsider in Japan because he is virtually a spy of Choson king. On the other hand, he is the insider in Japan for Choson society because he lives there as a captive. As a result, Koreans perceive him as insider in Japan, whereas he is an outsider for Japanese because he sticks to his neo-Confucian philosophy and Choson background and cultural norms and traditions.
Hang Kang also became the promoter of neo-Confucian ideas. He always stuck to his neo-Confucian views, in spite of the fact of being captive and under the permanent impact of Japanese cultural environment (Yasunori 2). Moreover, he always attempted to convey his ideas to Japanese and spread neo-Confucian philosophy in Japan. In this regard, Confucian ideas have never been presented in Japanese society. Japanese were not acquainted with Confucian ideas and did not take them seriously because of the physical distance and cultural barriers between Japan and China and Korea, where Confucian philosophy was historically widely-spread and popular. In fact, it was Kang Hang, who was one of the first neo-Confucians, who brought in this new philosophy to Japan. Therefore, Hang Kang viewed himself not only as a Korean spying over Japanese and studying Japanese society, political structure and culture, but also as a neo-Confucian. In this regard, he viewed spreading neo-Confucian ideas among Japanese.
Thus, Hang Kang depicts himself from multiple perspectives in his book. At first he appears as a patriot of his country and devoted servant. He remains a devoted servant of his king and patriot of his country throughout the book but his personality evolves and uncovers new aspects of his life and views. Steadily, his neo-Confucian ideals become obvious as he confronts Japanese culture, which turns out to be absolutely different from his own views, beliefs and cultural norms. He studies Japanese culture and society to tell about them to his king and country. He performs the role of a spy for his king in Japan. At the same time, he is not a mere captive for Japanese. Instead, he is rather a neo-Confucian philosopher, who brings in new ideas that Japanese learn from him.
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